Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Letter from Rana Dasgupta

Re: Short stories, Small Wonder, etc

Dear Feargal

Thank you for your interesting remarks on the Small Wonder Short Story Festival, which I read in the Willesden Herald.

Your recollections of the panel on which Di Speirs and I spoke differ markedly from mine, which is in the nature of recollections.

I do think that my recollection serves me faithfully, however, when I say that I did not "admit that [I] didn't really like the short story genre, and had been commissioned to write [my] book "Tokyo Cancelled".

Knowing something about the publishing world as you do, you would be aware that my being commissioned to write such a book would be extremely unlikely.

Much more significantly: as a writer of short stories, and as an enthusiastic reader thereof, I would never dismiss the genre in such a way.

This is how my recollections go...

I said that there was something unshakeable about the centrality of the novel to modern literature: that its scale was widely felt to be necessary to the complexity of the contemporary world and psyche. This, I said, was why the "great novel" was so tantalising an achievement for all aspiring national cultures - such as America's in the nineteenth century, and India's today.

But I also said that this desire for literary grandeur leaves behind an unsatisfied residue. This is the desire for smallness and intimacy in literature, the desire for tales that can be consumed in a small amount of time, and re-told like folktales. This is why the short story remains entirely unthreatened by the pre-eminence of the novel.

As you know yourself, the quest for form - the search for the voice and scale necessary to what one wishes to say - is the primary effort of writing. This may lead one into novel writing at one point, and into the writing of sonnets later on - rather as Beethoven confined himself almost exclusively to the string quartet after finishing the Op 125 symphony.

Genres are not in antagonism with each other, and there is no sense in any kind of fundamentalism of genre, nor in any a priori generic rejections. That is why I did not, and would not ever, issue the rejection of the short story that you recollect. But perhaps recollections are dynamic, and liable to amendment?

Rana Dasgupta

Feargal Mooney responds:

Dear Rana, thank you for that. I understand now that Radio 4 only commissioned you to write for Afternoon Reading after the publication of "Tokyo Cancelled". I apologise for getting that wrong and for misinterpreting your remarks about the place of the novel etc. I will post an update to the article below and wear barbed wire under my vest for a week in penance. Feargal

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